Smiling in passport photos could help prevent identity fraud, study suggests

Researchers say a toothy grin makes it easier for people to be identified

Sarah Young
Thursday 21 June 2018 14:18 BST

Replacing the neutral expression used for identification photographs with an open-mouth smile could help prevent identity fraud, new research suggests.

In an attempt to discover how to improve identification success rates, the University of York looked into the possibility that a smiling image of a person could be more easily verified.

This comes after previous research revealed that it can be difficult for people to match a pair of unfamiliar faces, therefore presenting significant issues for spotting identity fraud.

“Photo ID is a significant part of our lives and yet we know that the human brain has a hard time matching photos of people to other photos and matching photos with the real-life person,” said Dr Mila Mileva at the University’s Department of Psychology, who led the research.

“Identity fraud is a real problem on many levels, so it is important that we do more research in this area to see how we can improve methods of identification.”

For the study, a team of 40 participants were asked to match 60 images of people they did not know pulling neutral facial expressions with an open mouth smile, and a neutral expression with a closed-mouth smile.

They also asked 34 participants to match images where only the lower part of the face was visible.

Analysis of the results found that participants exhibited a nine per cent improvement in identifying the smiling images when comparing two images of the same person, and a seven per cent improvement when comparing pictures of two different, but similarly looking people.

As a result, the researchers suggest that using an image of a smiling person at passport check points, for example, could help improve identification success rates compared to using neutral images.

“Our research suggests that replacing the neutral expression we usually use when taking identification photographs with an open mouth smile, can make face matching an easier decision,” Mileva added.

“We also had success in showing that an open mouth smile can help people to tell two similarly looking, but different people apart which is critical when checking photo identification.”

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